It's January so let me wish you a Happy New Year. This is the time of year where many people rededicate themselves to physical fitness. It is the time of New Years resolutions.
In our school January is the month of Kagami Biraki, the start of a new year. We usher it in with hard training and pushing ourselves past our perceived limits. Cultivating new energy for a new year.
It's very similar to what is happening in many gyms at this time of the year.. The dojo however is not a gym. Let me share my thoughts and show some of the similarities and then I will explain the differences. In both locations the purpose is to go and stress the body. You can work hard in both the gym and dojo. Both places are designed to transform your body. Both require a commitment on your part. Both can be social settings and both produce results.
On the surface they seem interchangeable as if one is just an expression of the other. It would be a mistake to think so.
Let me explain the differences between the two.
A dojo is a sacred space.
This is the definition of sacred in the context of something that is worthy of spiritual respect or devotion, not in the context of any of the worlds religions. When you enter a dojo you respect the space because of what it symbolizes in your life. When you enter a gym, at least when I enter one there is no sense of the sacred demonstrated by me or that I can witness by the members of the facility.
A dojo is a place of transformation.
You will be transformed in a gym. If you are consistent and train with regularity your body will change. In a dojo the transformation runs deeper. When you train in a dojo you are faced with who you are at your core. The transformation takes place on an incremental level, subtly. You won't always be aware of it occurring, but it is happening. You will experience the outward of transformation of your body like in a gym, but you will also experience an inward transformation. Your entire demeanor will change, you will acquire patience, with yourself , with others and with the process of growth. You learn to embrace the journey as opposed to being focused on the destination. This is a very different mindset from being in a gym where the goal is what matters.
Training in a dojo requires hard work
Training in a dojo is hard. It requires a level of commitment not usually seen in a gym. You must be willing to push yourself beyond what you think your limits are on a consistent basis. This is not to negate the hard work required in a gym, however the hard work required in a dojo transcends the physical and enters the spiritual. You are not only working on your body but your entire being as a whole, spirit mind and body are impacted.
Ego has no place in a dojo
There is no room for your ego in a dojo. It only serves as an obstacle to learning. You can't bring your ego into a dojo and expect to progress because it will constantly remind you of what the other people in the class are doing how much better you are or how much worse you are than those around you. It seems to be quite the opposite in a gym where ego gets fed on a regular basis. I can lift more than the next person, my body looks better and so on.
The dojo is a community
You may be a regular at a gym and even have training partners which make the training in a gym easier. When you commit to training in a dojo you become part of a community, a family. You learn not just be concerned about yourself but about the journey of your fellow classmates. The social setting in a gym is one of isolation in most cases. In a dojo your are on an individual path as well. The difference being that you are connected to those that came before you and after you. The sense of connectivity is what creates a dojo family. We have all walked the same path some have started before others, but we are still on the same path.
In a dojo you come just the way you are and are accepted. There is no ideal you need to measure up to. The only limits that exist are the ones you impose. The only comparison that exists is when you compare to yourself of the past. Each person in the dojo serves each other. We spur each other on when our energy wanes. When we think of quitting we reach out and extend a hand to help you continue.
Though they may be similar but, a dojo and a gym are not the same. They each serve a purpose and it depends on what you seek in your life and in your training that will determine where you invest your time and energy.
strong spirit-strong mind- strong body
P.S. I wanted to share with all of you that I just released my latest book and you can find it HERE. It was a pleasure to write and I hope you enjoy it as well. If you do pick it up please leave a review.
Those who can't do, teach. That is the prevailing thought, especially in the sports world. This is not the case in the martial arts world however. This came to mind when I was recently asked by a parent upon my entering the dojo, "Do you ever teach class?" It was fair question, most people prefer to get taught by what they consider the highest ranked student of the school. When I am in a the dojo, I am teaching whether I am in the class or not. I occasionally meet with each instructor before class to discuss what needs to be covered in the class and with whom.
Then I realized it goes further than that. In the same manner I am constantly learning the same applies to my teaching. I am always teaching. It is not something I just do at certain times of my week, but rather a state of being student/teacher is a natural way for me. I was not disturbed by the question. Our school has grown to the point that there are students who have not seen me teach their class. I do however make it a point to try and visit every class at some point during the month. When we started at the location we are now, I did teach every class since I was the only instructor there were no other options. But as time passed and the school has grown we now have several instructors and many more training to become instructors. One of my driving philosophies in having a dojo was the furtherance of our style.
It is why the school is not named after me or a style I created, this was intentional.
We are the only school of our style which is not to say there aren't many students spread out far and wide. My driving philosophy is that the students embrace the art they are learning and not any one instructor. I know its hard to combat this, especially with our younger students. They will naturally gravitate to one instructor more than another. Each instructor has their class to teach and on occasion another instructor will substitute. Most of the students react well because the emphasis is on the learning, not the instructor. One of the things I have seen in several schools are instructors who do not embody the physical ideal of the style they are teaching. I find it very hard to believe that an instructor who doesn't maintain a regular training regimen will be competent enough to convey that knowledge to others.
As an example lets look at kata. At any given moment during a kata training session you will hear me say that kata has no shelf life. It is an exercise that must be practiced-daily. In martial arts its very difficult for an instructor to teach what they don't know. Students learn in a variety of ways some kinesthetically, others aurally and others by modelling. In many cases its all three. Then I express to my students that the only way I can keep their kata straight in my head is not due to some mystical power conveyed to me or reading about it. Its simple-I practice everyday.
Every instructor has facets of their own instructors in their teaching. My own instructor is considered superb kata practitioner. When I first met him and saw him execute a kata, frankly I was surprised . I didn't think kata could look like that. A few years later I had to go to a fight class and I'm watching this black belt basically disarm and exploit every opening present to him. Add that to the fact that he used his legs like arms and kicked at will. When I looked carefully I realized that this was the same kata practitioner from years earlier the same person who would become my sensei-Shihan Cormack.
One of the key things I learned from him and try to show my students is that you can be good at kata, phenomenal even. You can also be phenomenal at fighting. Underlying this is the attitude of being a complete martial artist, of learning everyday. Even though its something I do personally, thanks to one of the seniors at the school we now have required reading for the adults to further their understanding of art and kata they are practicing.
Here is one of the ways I was shown to avoid getting hit( we still show it this way in our school). We would go over the theory of what we call the 8 blocks. Basically blocks to avoid deflect and slip(aurally/modelling) Then we would practice the blocks until I became proficient (kinesthetic/modelling). We would then spar where I would be the attacker and Shihan was only defending(kinesthetic/modelling). Then we would spar where we both attacked and by this point those 8 blocks are reflex and intuitive.
This is how we teach, but if I really look at it this, it is how my teacher taught me, so in a very real sense he is still teaching, everyday at the dojo. Everyday we are exacting about our kata and our kicking and how a punch is to be executed. He is teaching at that moment.
This is something that we must understand on very deep level as students and instructors, what we teach remains. We are a link in a chain of instructors, with each link adding something to the overall chain. Remember that learning and teaching is not relegated only to the dojo, but to life.
So to answer the parent who asked if I ever teach class. The answer is yes, I teach every class.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
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